I am not an angry person, I thought at first.
It turns out, I was wrong.
Sometimes in life, God invites us into a deeper reflection. For me, as well as for many others, this invitation often comes in the form of signs. Specifically, it is the consistent re-emergence of a theme or idea that requires my attention.
This past week, God invited me to consider how anger was boiling within, and if I was to continue to grow and to develop as a spiritual being, work was needed.
This invitation to explore my own anger surfaced in the following ways:
- As I was reading Parker Palmer’s recent book On the Brink of Everything– specifically related to the current political climate under our current President, and the culture of dishonesty within our elected leadership that is not limited to a political party.
- Memes and tweets on social media focusing on anger, inviting me into further reflection.
- A quick conversation over our morning coffee, my wife brought up the theoretical idea of anger and the varying emotions that surround the feeling.
The Spirit was and is telling me that this is something that needs further reflection. I invite you to consider your own self-examination related to anger as I now share mine:
Let me begin by saying that I do not consider myself an angry person, although there are moments when I succumb to the emotion. It is very much a fleeing emotion that I quickly honor before it is quickly dismissed.
In insignificant ways, I am angry when the Mets lose (an experience that us Mets fans are way too familiar). I am also angry when a car cuts me off, or if I miss a train or bus. The emotion may linger a bit, but the anger moves on relatively quickly.
I also feel anger in relationships, and it is here where I probably need to give myself more time to feel the emotion. I am quick to “get over it” as I do not like conflict, especially when it involves a person that means a great deal to me. I have a strong urge to move from anger to harmony.
Anger emerges for many reasons, and we shouldn’t be quick to bury it in the sand.
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.-Wayne Dyer
Sometimes it pokes at the ego, inviting us to reflect on the emotion. The reflection allows us to learn more about ourselves, and to grow.
At times the anger is justified, and we are challenged to grow in a different way. In it all, we eventually grow and heal. We learn to live a fuller life all because of this experience- but only if we take the time to reflect.
With this focused approach to exploring anger, I decided to participate in an activity. The instructions were simple, answer the following question: When did you feel anger over the past week.
Here is what I wrote:
- I am angry at how people treat the LGBTQ+ community. Especially in public figures that I have respected, those who are entrusted in key leadership and influential positions- their power is misused and they are contributing to the ever-growing violent culture toward innocent individuals and couples.
- I am angry in how my recent article on the Pride parade received such negative reactions. Some were toward me, but that didn’t bother me. It was the comments toward the LGBTQ+ community that made me not only feel sad, but angry.
- I am also angry about the children who are separated from their families on the border. Over 13,000 children, separated from their families, are being held in shelters across the country, including only a few miles from me. As I tuck my daughter into her bed at night, I cannot stop thinking of these children and their parents. There is no “justification” that will make me feel less ashamed as a nation, hurt as a parent, and angry as a human being.
- I am angry over the way we treat others as a society.
- The way we handle racism, especially related to education and incarceration.
- The way we are not addressing gun violence and mental health.
- The way women are treated as less than in relationships, society, and in institutions.
- The way the rich never have enough as the poor struggle to survive.
- I am angry over the way we ignore facts blindly to support an ideology.
- I am angry in how we get upset over a character from a television show, going as far to protest an ending to a series, but we fail to show the same care or concern to real human suffering; never writing an email to a politician who has power to make a change.
- I am angry that our world is literally burning.
- I am angry that in all of the debate over the variety of life issues, we are not capable of having a real conversation where we can actually listen and learn so we can truly support one another.
- I am angry that in all of the complexity of life, all of the pain and suffering, we move on with our days, our distractions, and our superficial needs. There must be another way.
I could go on, and on, and on, but I am finding my blood pressure rising as my ears are turning bright red. I am clearly angry about a number of very important matters.
I imagine that those who may disagree with me on some items here may be angry too. And this is where the rubber meets the road.
Sometimes, we repress the anger and it has a funny, and at times, a not-so-funny way of impacting how we treat others as well as ourselves. It may even trickle out as a subconscious reaction that we may not even be aware, but the person impacted by our cruelty certainly walks away feeling less than, hurt, and sad.
At other times, we act out of this anger, mistreating people in very cruel and unjust ways. Sometimes, we even make jokes about it. We may even justify such behavior to feel better about ourselves and to seek approval from like-minded folks. There is no shortage of recent and historical examples.
In one of the reoccurring social media messages, it read “anger is the feeling of not believing you have the power to change the situation.”
Isn’t that true. That is absolutely the cause of much of the anger in the litany of situations mentioned above.
Yet as I continue this reflection on anger, I find that while the mindset is accurate, it isn’t true. We can, and we must, change these situations. We must channel that anger into self-discovery and growth.
First, we must be in balance as acting out of this anger will not bear great fruit. We need to honor the anger, then use it as fuel to engage in critical thought and strategic change.
Yes, there are moments when we must flip the table like Jesus in the temple (MT 21:12-13). Yet we are called to be like Jesus at all the other times in His ministry, and as our great spiritual leaders model, and this is people of peace-reflecting God’s love to all, especially to those who are the cause of our anger.
I offer the quotes below for you to ponder with me as a way to look at anger differently. Not only are we required to contemplate the impact of anger in our life, we must also grow from it if we wish to be the best version of our true self, and to make situations better for others.
Finally, my prayer for you and for me is that we may recognize our anger, honor it, then transform it into love. Let us share that love to overpower the insensitivity, the hate, the hurt of others. Let us turn this anger into new life for not only ourselves, but also for those most in need.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
~ BuddhaLet nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
~ Mother Teresa
Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.
~ Eckhart Tolle
“The best fighter is never angry.”
~ Lao Tzu
Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.
~ Mahatma Gandhi